Experience Design

I’ve always been inquisitive by nature and while I’m a far cry from an ‘extreme adventurer’ I have a wanderlust where I’ve always sought out new experiences. I was reminded of one such experience when having dinner at the DDI Forum’s Design Awards ceremony the other week in Napa Valley. Sitting next to the Senior Global Director of Creative Services for Timberland – I was recounting the story of my very first pair of Timberland boots.

I was travelling through Asia back in 1994 and the boots helped me on a spontaneous and ill-prepared climb to the the top of an active volcano that last erupted in 1963. Towering 3,142 meters above sea level, Mount Agung is the highest mountain on the island of Bali and the fifth highest volcano in the whole of Indonesia.


After climbing in the dark, falling off a ridge and running out of water, the boots and I made it to the barren, volcanic top in time to see the sunrise… casting a dramatic shadow of the mountain across the clouds below. I’m not sure what possessed me to take off my boots and photograph them at the time, but the experience forged a meaningful connection between me and the Timberland brand.

Shortly after this I followed my calling in design, creating impactful retail experiences for brands and their customers. Why I’ve remained passionate about this Industry over the past 20 years is the powerful responsibility and opportunity that we have, to transcend the often repetitive ritual of shopping and transforming it into an experience that connects customers emotionally to the brand.

People have a deep need to find meaning and connect emotionally to the world around them. Through storytelling, product displays, graphics and merchandising, we can enrich the shopping experience and connect emotionally with customers. The art of ‘storytelling’ is a means to show how your brand relates to the customer’s life in some way. A familiar event or an activity communicates that ‘we’re sharing the same world’ or have something in common beyond simply providing a product or service.

An example of this is Majestic Athletic – a client of ours who are part of VF brands. Since they sell professional apparel – particularly at sporting events – the idea was to place the customer in the locker room to make them feel like a ‘pro-athlete’.

Little's design for Majestic Athletic (VF Brands)

Just the other week, I was invited to participate in a panel discussion at Interbike in Las Vegas, where we discussed “Why Store Design Matters”. As a brief case study on ‘Creating Impact’ in retail, I referenced a new store design concept that Little have created for Dick’s Sporting Goods called ‘True Runner’.

(If you would like a copy of the presentation please email me at jfarnell@littleonline.com)

Interbike 2012 Presentation - Available on request.

I used this to drive the point home that in order to forge these lasting relationships, we need to engage with customers in meaningful ways that provide human interaction and personal connections. Keep in mind that despite our yearning to be driven by logic, we are still governed in most of our decisions by our hearts – which explains why “70% of brand selections are made in the store and 68% of all those purchases are, to some degree, impulse driven.”

Last week, almost 40 years after riding my own first red bicycle, I bought a bike for my son who rode to school today for the first time. He’s more brand conscious at the age of 6 than I ever recall being, but it’s what the manufacturer Haro is enabling him to do that will stay with him forever.  So think about the memorable experiences in your life and how they could translate into physical ‘triggers’ for a customer as they interact with your brand. How can you engage with them in a two-way conversation that brings them closer to you?

20yrs between James & Jack's 'first' red bikes.

In the same way that the experience I shared with Timberland in ’94 brought me closer to their brand, designers and retailers have an opportunity to re-define their retail experience – to transcend the transaction through a far more mobile offer. One where the product is accessible in the home or on the move, where the store becomes an experience platform rather than a gallery – a far more active, inclusive space that connects you with the context in which the product is used.

A dramatic shadow of Mt Agung cast across the clouds below, as the sun rises behind us.

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